“Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About“ by Mil Millington is the debut novel that is an outgrowth of his Web site of the same name, and “Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons“ by Lorna Landvik is the latest from the popular author of bestsellers like “Patty Janes House of Curl “ and “Welcome to the Great Mysterious.“
After a reading diet as of late that has consisted of serial killers, epic journeys across early America, and techniques for surviving biochemical, nuclear, and terrorist emergencies, both of these felt as welcome as the spring air that were opening up our windows to welcome. Theyre each funny and affectionate, with many moments from the stuff of daily life that ring true against the backdrop of some textured subplots, and highly recommended.
Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About by Mil Millington
Already optioned for the movies, Millingtons story revolves around English-born and bred Pel and his live-in German girlfriend, the unflappable Ursula. Mostly, their life is uneventful, dealing with two young sons and calamities like losing ones car keys, and, of course, finding new things to argue about.
In the opening paragraphs of the first chapter, he sets up the loving, but combative relationship Pel has with Ursula:
“Im now late. Ten minutes ago I was early. I was wandering about in a too-early limbo, in fact; scratching out a succession of ludicrously trivial and unsatisfying things to do, struggling against the finger-drumming effort of burning away sections of the too-earliness. The children, quick to sense I was briefly doomed to wander the earth without reason or rest, had attached themselves, one to each of my legs. I clumped around the house like a man in magnetic boots while they laughed themselves breathless and shot at each other with wagging fingers and spit-gargling mouth noises from the cover of opposite knees. Now, however, Im in a fury of lateness. The responsibility for this rests wholly with the car keys and thereby with their immediate superior - my girlfriend, Ursula.
“Where - where the hell - are the car keys?“ I shout down the stairs. Again. Reason has long since fled. Ive looked in places where I know there is no possible chance of the car keys lurking. Then Ive rechecked all those places again. Just in case, you know, I suffered transitory hysterical blindness the first time I looked... I do a semi-controlled fall down the stairs to the kitchen, where Ursula is making herself a cup of coffee in a protective bubble of her own, non-late, serene indifference.
“Well?“ Im so clenched I have to shake the word from my head.
“What do you mean “Well what?“ Ive just asked you twice.“
“I didnt hear you, Pel. I had the radio on.“ Ursula nods towards the pocket-sized transistor radio on the shelf. Which is off.“
Pel and Ursulas less-than-idyllic life gets a radical makeover when Pels boss mysteriously disappears, and slacker Pel (“for me, half-heartedness is a full-quarter too hearted“) becomes embroiled in a wild chain of events involving stolen money, missing colleagues, and members of the Chinese mafiosi. Whatever warfare Pel and Ursula engage in on a daily basis is hardly training for they mysteries he uncovers through one bumbling escapade after another, all of which comes to a head with a local university building that is going to be built on a historic burial site and has deadly nerve gas in its foundation.
Most of Pels narration is extremely sharp and humorous, and while this isnt a venue for earth-shattering revelations about how men and women jockey for position and power with each other, it is genuinely entertaining at every turn.
Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik
Landvik had major sleepers with both “Patty Janes House of Curl“ and “Welcome to the Great Mysterious,“ and in her latest, she wisely returns to the eccentric landscape of small-town Minnesota life, specifically Freesia Court, where a group of friends have formed a book club they call the AWEB - Angry Wives Eating Bon Bons.
The club becomes a lifestyle, if not a lifeline commitment to each other, and the five women involved each have a story of their own to tell. Newcomer Faith is a lonely housewife and mother with a terrible secret. Audrey is the big, sassy resident sex queen. Merit is a shy doctors wife who suffers terrible abuse at his hands. Kari is Mother Earth incarnate - wise, warm, and wordly. Slip is an activist, a spitfire who loves to tackle a challenge, even ones that are greater than her tiny frame might allow.
In the first chapter, “The Members,“ Landvik sets the stage for the three decades of marriages, child raising, neighborhood parties, bad husbands and good friends that will follow by introducing us to Faith and her husband, Wade:
“Fuller Brush salesman had the unfortunate task of trying to sell his wares to the women of Freesia Court during the fifth day of a March cold snap.
“They were like caged animals,“ he complained later to his district manager. “I felt like any minute they were going to turn on me.“
“Brushes?“ Faith Owens had said when he offered up his bright smile and sales pitch on her icy front doorstep. “I‘m sorry, but I‘ve got a little more than brushes to worry about right now. Like wondering if spring is ever going to get here. Because I truly believed it might really be coming when boom -- here it is, twenty below zero with a wind-chill factor that would bring Nanook of the North to his knees.“
“Thank you for your time,“ said the salesman, picking up his case. “You have a pleasant day, now.“
“And what exactly is a wind-chill factor anyway?“
“Faith,“ called her husband, Wade, from the living room. “Faith, don‘t be rude, honey.“
“Well what is it?“ she asked, slamming the door with her hip. “What exactly is a wind-chill factor?“
“This is Minnesota,“ said Wade, ignoring her question because he wasn‘t quite sure of the answer. “What do you expect?“
“Oh, I don‘t know -- maybe a little damn relief?“
“Might I remind you,“ said Wade, “how you cried with delight seeing your first snowfall?“
“I cried with delight the first time I had sex with you, but that doesn‘t mean I want it nonstop.“
“You‘re telling me,“ said Wade with a wistful sigh.“
“Ha, ha, ha,“ said Faith, surveying her neat and trim husband as he brushed his crew cut with his palm, a gesture he always made after what he thought was a joke.“
Landviks story spans the 40s through the 80s, and throughout, the saving grace of friendship is there for her five engaging characters. No matter what hand is dealt them, they play their cards, and in some ways that might surprise the reader. This is the sort of tale that could be far more predictable than it is in its plot conventions, and the material works particularly well because the author isnt content to make it all safe, neat, and homespun. Landviks women learn from the surprises and setbacks they encounter, and the reader can, as well.